FALMOUTH — For a relatively young club, this year the speech and debate team at Falmouth High School has earned a singular honor: invites to two different national tournaments.
Falmouth will be first be sending seven students to the National Catholic Forensic League tournament, which will be held in in Louisville, Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend.
Sophie Baker will compete in oral interpretation of literature, Ella Boyd will participate in extemporaneous speaking, Oscar Brautigam and Sarah Rabinowitz will both compete in oratorical declamation, and Caitlyn Bull in original oratory.
In addition, Ellie Rudnick and Catherine Carpenter will participate in the public forum debate.
Then, in mid-June, Caitlyn Bull and Hannah Michaud will attend the week-long National Speech and Debate Tournament in Birmingham, Alabama. At that event Bull will compete in oral interpretation and Michaud will compete in informative speaking.
To get to these national events costs money, which is why the team has a GoFundMe page, and is hoping to raise about $10,000 to help defray travel costs.
Jessie Grearson, the speech coach for the team, said this week that participating in a national competition allows students from Falmouth to take “their speech and debate participation to an even more competitive level (and) compete with the very best speech and debate students in the country.”
“Being with thousands of other teens from across the country who are also passionate about speech and debate is an amazing experience for them.”
Grearson said what makes students who participate in speech and debate stand out is “their sense of poise, and their willingness to put their ideas out there to be listened to and judged.”
She added, “They’re all very talented individuals; actors, writers, and athletes” who are “disciplined, hard workers.”
The debate team at Falmouth High got started in 2008, while the speech team didn’t get underway until 2014 when Grearson’s daughter Ellie Sapat attended a national debate tournament in support of her sister, Emma, and “saw what speech could be.”
To be good at speech and debate requires the “ability to think on your feet. But also the ability to listen carefully,” Grearson said. She also said the “ability to discern what is a viable source of information or a valid argument, and what isn’t, are critical skills in today’s world.”
In all, the speech and debate team at Falmouth High saw 39 students participate this year; 23 in debate, two in Congressional debate and 14 in speech.
The topics for the national tournaments have not been released, but students from Falmouth have debated issues this year that range from whether the U.S. should increase military spending to whether the benefits of the internet outweigh the decrease in privacy.
Grearson said in speech competitions, the “most important preparation is simply finding the best material, whether that’s poetry, prose or drama. Once students find great material that they connect to, (their task is) to bring it alive through vocal variation and gesture.”
She also said, “Winning a spot to qualify at these national tournaments is tough, (that’s why) we’re proud to be sending so many students to nationals this year.”
Josh and Lyndsy Denk, who coach debate for the Falmouth team, said becoming a good public speaker “comes from practice and openness to try different approaches to research and delivery. Debate and speech demand balanced intellect, a sense of curiosity and ethical integrity, along with logic and creativity.”
They said what’s especially difficult about debate is that “students must embrace both sides of the resolution and have a willingness to provide strong and concrete evidence that links back to (their central) argument. Fake news and alternative facts do not have a home in debate.”
Overall, Grearson added, “I believe that participating in speech and debate is one of the most beneficial extracurricular activities that students can put time into. I’ve seen firsthand how speech and debate prepares students for their classes, their AP tests, their on-demand essays for college, and now I’m also starting to see how it helps them get jobs after they graduate.”
Plus, she said, “It’s fun.”
Several members of the speech and debate team at Falmouth High School are headed to two different national tournaments this spring. From left are Ellie Rudnick, Ella Boyd, Hannah Michaud, Caitlyn Bull, Oscar Brautigam, Sarah Rabinowitz and Sophie Baker.